We’re #2! – Corona’s “The Rhythm of the Night”

“This is the rhythm of the night, the night, oh yeah. The rhythm of the night.”

Inspired by Tom Ewing’s “Popular” (which traces the history of UK #1 singles) and Tom Breihan’s “The Number Ones” (which does the same for US #1s), “We’re #2!” looks at the history of those songs which almost but not-quite managed to reach the summit of the UK Singles Chart, beginning a quarter century back from this column’s inception (March 2019) up until whenever the Present Day comes about.


011] Corona – The Rhythm of the Night

Reached #2: 18th September 1994

Weeks at #2: 2

I’d like to think that we’re all learning something over the course of this series. Not just the realisation that certain massive hits covered in this series never made it to #1 – maybe not so much so far, but you’ll definitely have that “wait, WHAT?!” reaction numerous times as we get deeper into proceedings – or the often fascinating stories behind the songs and the artists responsible for them, but little misconceptions that we (both you the reader and myself the writer) don’t even realise are misconceptions until work on the covered song begins. To wit, it’s time to pay off some foreshadowing from four months ago in a manner which negates the foreshadowing entirely because it was based on my not being aware of an important fact which changes everything.

Back in April, I mentioned that there was only other one song in 1994’s collection of #2 singles that was able to come close to Bruce Springsteen’s devastatingly haunting “Streets of Philadelphia,” perhaps even surpass it. More knowledgeable readers, or cheaters who looked up the rest of the year’s entries ahead of time, would perhaps have been able to deduce that I was referring to Corona’s eternal Eurodance classic “The Rhythm of the Night,” which would spend two weeks stuck behind Whigfield’s slightly-less eternal Eurodance classic “Saturday Night” that September. And that was indeed the intention. I was all set to write a non-stop stream of effusive praise about one of the 90s’ greatest songs, in fact it was one of entries in this series I was most excited in the planning stages to cover… only to find out upon researching this entry that the version of “Rhythm of the Night” that you and I think of when the song comes to mind or comes on the radio nowadays is not the version that made it to #2 in the UK.

Whilst the version which crops up in movies and videogames was the original take on the song, it wasn’t the one that crossed over onto the pop charts outside of Corona’s native Italy which is annoying but not exactly uncommon in the Eurodance scene. These were songs made for clubs and overseas holiday raves like those in Ibiza and the South coasts of Europe. If the songs made enough of a splash on the continent, then that buzz would travel back home to local DJs and their patrons who would order the tracks in for their own club nights (assuming they hadn’t already acquired the wax before travelling back), which in turn would foster a growing demand from the general public for a version they could own at home, which in turn would get these songs on the pop radio stations, which in turn would get the artists record deals and which then, after a lengthy delay, would finally get these songs onto the pop charts. That’s pretty much what happened with “Saturday Night” and its otherwise seemingly-out-of-nowhere straight-to-#1 domination of the charts, and it’s somewhat true of “Rhythm of the Night” as well.

First released in Italy in November of 1993, “Rhythm of the Night” went on to top the Italian pop charts for eight consecutive weeks by February of 1994. Producer Francesco Bontempi and model Olga Maria de Souza – who, as was typical of the Eurodance industry at the time, didn’t actually sing on the big hit despite being credited as so and having her face all over the promotional material; the track’s vocals were performed by a just-starting-out Jenny B (real name Giovanna Bersola) – had a giant hit which was peaking at home at just the right time for it to make a splash at Summertime clubs the continent over. Their label DWA sold the track over to Warner Music for the UK push as Summer was winding down and, evidently, somebody at the song’s new label didn’t think it was enough of a hit-in-waiting so contacted rising German-expat production duo The Rapino Brothers (Charlie Mallozzi and Marco Sabiu) to remix it for the single release. And whilst the label did end up releasing the original Italian version as a single that year, the remix was pushed out first and (as far as my research can tell me since there are few exact dates out there) was the version which made it to #2. A major shame, too, because it is so much worse that the original in every conceivable aspect.

To be perfectly frank, “Rhythm of the Night” in its original form is a damn-near perfect Eurodance song; honestly only “What is Love?” and something we’ll get to soon enough can challenge its supremacy as the greatest example of that particular subgenre. Jenny B’s vocal performance has a classic house diva heft and command to it, but she actively resists belting out at full-force like you’d otherwise find vocalists such as her doing. She’s not trying to overpower the song, not trying to barrel through it like a hurricane, instead she’s trying to luxuriate within the music, command it with control and steely passion. Most house divas are almost trying to drown out the beats and thumps and bleeps around them, but Jenny B specifically wants to hear them. “This is the rhythm of the night/This is the rhythm of my life.” This music is what drives her, what keeps her going, what comforts her in her moments of loneliness and heartache – I can draw a surprisingly straight line between this Eurodance number and something like Jamie xx’s transcendental “Loud Places” which covers similar ground in a not that dissimilar manner. The refrain hits and she exhilaratingly shouts along, but when the verses come she almost sing-mumbles with a slight shyness and reserve as if scared of being let down in this sacred home of hers – or maybe, like most clubgoers, her character only knows the chorus and is just guessing her way through the verses.

The music backs her up splendidly, too. Eurodance has a not-unfairly earned reputation for being cheesy and gauche as all hell, “Doop” had been a #1 jam for three goddamn weeks just months earlier and we are still half a decade out from “Blue (Da Ba Dee),” but “Rhythm of the Night” avoids almost all the signifiers of that kind of cheese. The chorus is borderline disco, the buzzy synth preset that provides the little melody hook over the chorus is mixed just under the vocals and almost never appears without the vocals because it’s an accent to the true hook rather than a substitute, the lyrics are not exactly Infinite Jest but they carry genuine euphoric meaning couched in uncertainty and don’t contain any massive clunkers like “I’m serious as cancer when I say rhythm is a dancer.”

And despite running for 4:20, including kicking straight off with the BIG hook which also makes up the entire last third of the song, it never feels repetitive or irritating because, every single time the song threatens to stall, it keeps pulling out new tricks. A verse melody nicked from forgotten German synthpop duo Say When!’s 1987 single “Save Me” (the two writers of that also received credit on “Rhythm of the Night”). A post-chorus that breaks down for an electro-hop bounce with a funk-style scream panning over the background. The 32 bars where the song just breaks into a sample from Bizarre Inc.’s “Playing with Knives” (the writers of which did not receive credit on “Rhythm”). Each time the beat cuts out with a well-timed scratch followed by the titular refrain again.

Even though the 909s and techno signifiers in the specific synth sounds date “Rhythm of the Night” inexorably to the early 90s, it honestly doesn’t feel like it’s aged all that heavily in 25 years. So many of its contemporaries feel so much older and dated than this, and I’m including the good stuff in this assessment like “Ebenezer Goode” (not Eurodance or techno but also not a million miles away from either). Yet “Rhythm of the Night” is just the right amount of retro; listening invokes another time, a nostalgic time, but doesn’t feel all that incongruous with our modern world. The smoky, dusty, laser-strewn recreational centres and ‘Working Mens Clubs’ that would be turned into makeshift discos and clubs in smaller working-class towns are what often come to mind when I hear this song, the ones that aren’t there physically anymore but live on in spirit because the only thing that’s truly changed in such areas in the passing years has been crushing austerity taking the places where people used to be able to unwind. That may sound like an unrelated tangent or an extremely backhanded compliment, but it’s genuinely not meant to be either. “Rhythm of the Night” is not dated, which here means ‘cartoonish uncool flanderisation of its particular time period,’ but rather aged, ‘lived-in and steeped in tangible history and real,’ and the latter kind always holds up.

But despite the last four paragraphs, we’re not here to talk about the original version of “Rhythm of the Night” (which would end up being the Album Version on Corona’s belatedly-released and surprisingly alright 1995 debut LP of the same name). No, we’re here to discuss the “Rapino Brothers Radio Version” and if last week’s discussion of Kylie Minogue’s “Finer Feelings” demonstrated how a good remix can reveal the potential in an otherwise messy and subpar track then this “Radio Version” is unfortunately an expert example of the inverse. Structurally, it does still resemble “Rhythm of the Night,” although 40 seconds have been lopped off in an effort to get it under the radio-friendly four-minute barrier, but everything just sounds off and wrong and at odds with the meticulous and restrained design of the original.

For a prime example, take the chorus. In the original mix, the vocals are clearly sat front and centre in harmony and symbiosis with the drum machine whilst the buzzy little synth refrain accentuates the main hook underneath but doesn’t overpower or draw unnecessary attention. On the Radio Version, Jenny B’s vocals have been given a deeper booming double-tracked reverb designed to punch through radio and car stereo speakers, the replaced drum machines (which are supposed to carry more of a machine gun bite yet somehow feel more leaden those on the original) are almost trying to shout her back down, there are now house piano chords also crowding the mix despite adding nothing to the song, and that buzzy synth refrain has had the gain turned several steps up and mixed on the same level as every other aspect of the track (plus it keeps coming in multiple beats too late into the chorus like somebody who is constantly forgetting their cue). What used to soar with grace and euphoria now keeps stumbling over itself like a high school tuba band all trying to get through one medium-sized door at the same time.

The tempo has been dropped a tiny bit, the key similarly also, the chorus vocals in addition to being unnecessarily deepened and drowned in needless reverb all seem to be taken exclusively from the latter half of the track so there’s little progression or variation in the performance. The sample breaks have been ditched altogether, which I guess is understandable but means that the song now has far less tricks to pull out of its bag and therefore manages to somehow tire a good minute before its scheduled finish. Most egregiously, the song now fades out inconclusively rather than firmly ending like the original did. The firm stop in the original added a conclusive end to the high expressed by Jenny B’s vocals and Corona’s music, that this euphoria cannot last forever and how such fleetingness is exactly why it’s so special, four-plus minutes to try and forget all the cares and find solace on the dancefloor before they return. The fade-out takes that meaning away and doesn’t add anything in its place besides letting obnoxious radio DJs talk all over the outro and transition into whatever’s next on the playlist.

It’s all so needless and label-notes-driven and commercial, and it wrecks one of the greatest songs of the decade. Not entirely, since this at least is still recognisably “Rhythm of the Night” and you can’t completely kill a song as exceptional as that, but enough that listening to this particular version is constantly vexing and mildly upsetting, like watching one of those no-budget soulless Disney knock-offs you used to see crowding Kids DVD/VHS aisles in supermarkets. The original untainted “Rhythm of the Night” is as firm and enthusiastic of a 5 as I have yet given in this series, whilst the “Rapino Brothers Radio Mix” is a 2. Because both were issued as singles in the UK (and mainly because Discogs doesn’t provide specific release dates for either beyond “1994”), I’m splitting the difference and going for a 3 since I don’t do half-stars in this series, but the fact that I have to give “Rhythm of the Night” an official rating other than 5 genuinely saddens me and I want the record to show that I did so begrudgingly.

The following year, “Rhythm of the Night” would, along with many of its fellow Eurodance brethren, finally cross the Atlantic and achieve genuine smash success on the American charts, topping out at #11 on the Billboard Hot 100. By this point, Bontempi had finally managed to put together some follow-up singles and an album. De Souza was still the face of the project and did sing snatches of the songs on live tours – her being a Brazilian with a then-strong accent was cited as the main reason why Bontempi sought out ghost singers – but Jenny B declined to provide vocals for any further songs so Welsh singer Sandra Chambers took over that role for both the debut and sophomore albums. Corona’s album would flop in the UK, peaking at #18, but the project did at least score two more Top 10 singles from it in 1995, “Baby Baby” (a cover of Italo house project Joy & Joyce’s 1991 track “Babe Babe”) and “Try Me Out,” then would never have another major hit in either the UK or Italy again. By 2001, de Souza had finally come on enough as a vocalist to provide vocals on all of the project’s subsequent tracks and albums whilst Bontempi left in the middle of production on their third record. De Souza, now going under the Corona stage name, is still performing to this day but has only released a handful of one-off singles in the near-decade since her fourth record, 2010’s Y Generation.

Bonus Beats: Acclaimed French filmmaker Claire Denis memorably set the fascinating close of her heralded 1999 drama Beau Travail, in which protagonist Galoup performs a solo interpretive dance at a club after losing his position in the French Foreign Legion due to the events of the movie I otherwise won’t spoil (go watch it), to “Rhythm of the Night.” Here is that.

Bonus Bonus Beats: In an almost exact tonal contrast, James Franco’s 2017 dramedy biopic The Disaster Artist also memorably chose to set a scene to “Rhythm of the Night,” this one involving Tommy Wiseau gloriously letting himself go to the song in the club, at least until he notices Greg Sestero flirting with a waitress. The song would also recur in the credits, briefly interrupted by Franco-as-Wiseau tunelessly wailing along to the chorus.

(There have been numerous covers and samplings of “Rhythm of the Night” over the years, but none of them are particularly great and I really don’t want to talk about Cascada or Bastille until I absolutely have to.)

The #1: Pipping “Rhythm of the Night” to #1 for both of its weeks, as mentioned, was Whigfield’s light, frothy, sprightly and altogether-fine smash-hit “Saturday Night.” It’s a 3.

The gaps: In the week between “Confide in Me” and “Rhythm of the Night,” the #2 slot was held down by the declining Wet Wet Wet’s “Love is All Around” as a bookend to its time at the highest reaches of the chart (having spent a week at #2 before its legendary 15 week run at the top).

A new entry of We’re #2! will be posted every Saturday.

Callum Petch, magic people, voodoo people!

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